“Dark, Deep Darkness and Splendor”

David Lynch, NYC, 10/4/01

New 4K restorations of two David Lynch masterpieces, his influential debut feature, “Eraserhead” (1977), which he has called “a dream of dark and troubling things,” and “Mulholland Dr.” (2001), a peerless thriller of confused identities, which often tops critics’ polls, are highlights of a 19-film celebration of the visionary director, “The Films of David Lynch.” Included in the  program are Lynch’s eight additional features, seven shorts, and “Meditation, Creativity and Peace,” which documents his tour discussing transcendental meditation and how it affects his work.

The two-week series also features the theatrical premiere of the fascinating documentary (arguably, the director’s self-portrait), “David Lynch: The Art Life,” directed by Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm. The film cuts between current footage of Lynch working (and smoking) in his beautiful indoor/outdoor studio in the Hollywood Hills (he’s been a serious, prolific painter since his early teens), and chronological  flashbacks to his life, employing archival photographs, shots of his paintings, drawings and early experimental films. Lynch narrates in hypnotic voiceover, in his American accent, telling the story of his exceptionally happy childhood with loving, supportive parents Edwina (“Sunny”) and Donald, two siblings and friends. Teenage acting out followed and then, discovering painting through a friend’s artist father and what he calls  “the art life,” which he romanticized as, “You drink coffee, you smoke cigarettes and you paint…maybe some girls come into it a little bit…the incredible happiness of working.”

Lynch’s imagery developed early, including, faces and figures, formally and psychologically distressed, elongated arms, houses, planes, and text. He fled a Boston art school and landed at one in Philadelphia where his work flourished despite (or perhaps because of the “thick fear in the air..sickness, corruption” in the late 60s). One night in his cubicle studio at school, an unfinished 4’x4′ green painting suddenly suggested the artist’s direction, “Moving painting…with sound. That idea stuck in my head.”

An unexpected grant from AFI and subsequent admission to The Center for Advanced Film Studies (housed in a Beverly Hills mansion/estate), opened up Lynch’s art practice to include narrative feature filmmaking. Living and working in the school’s stables, he handmade “Eraserhead.” Footage shows him with cinematographer Fred Elmes and star Jack Nance, and creating the sets. Lynch says that making his first feature was “One of my greatest, happiest experience in cinema…building everything and have it go the way I wanted.”

“The Films of David Lynch” will open at IFC Center on Friday, March 24 and runs through Thursday, April 6. “David Lynch: The Art Life” will open on Friday, March 31 for a one-week run, with a Q&A with Jon Nguyen following the 7:15 pm show that evening and on Saturday, April 1. The documentary will open in Los Angeles on Friday, April 14.

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A Woman, Putting It Back Together

Elisabeth Subrin, NYC, 6/13/16

Successful network TV actress, Anna Baskin (Maggie Siff), 44, has recently regained her health after suffering from an unspecified autoimmune disease. But the recovery is only partial–while her body has healed, she’s flailing emotionally, and exhausted, questioning her career and other life choices.

Writer and director Elisabeth Subrin’s “A Woman, A Part” is a quietly effective study of sadness, regret and acceptance. Anna, propped up by Ritalin and Wellbutrin, is no longer sustained by the work she coveted. She tells her supportive agent, Leslie Barrett (Khandi Alexander), that because she isn’t being heard on any of her hit show’s creative decisions, she feels like she’s just “phoning it in.” In her honeyed voice, Leslie answers that “sooner or later, everyone does (that).”

While her show is on break, Anna leaves Los Angeles (and the big house filled with unpacked boxes) and returns to her small garden apartment in Brooklyn, and the theater friends, Kate Mullen (Cara Seymour) and Isaac Jones (John Ortiz), who were so important to her both personally and professionally when she first started to act in the downtown theater scene of the 90s.

Home has changed. Cranes are silhouetted against the sky, dangling from unfinished upscale buildings. Kate, now sober, has given up acting and is losing her book-filled apartment to gentrification. Isaac’s recent plays haven’t found an audience, contributing to the shakiness in his marriage. Advising Isaac to take his wife on a real date, Anna offers to babysit their daughter. And in his office she finds “Life, Still,” his new script, whose main character is her dopplegänger, with her neuroses and strengths. Feeling too revealed, she angrily flees when Isaac and Jude return.

A very brief fling with a young contractor (who she erroneously believes doesn’t know who she is) lets her try on another persona. But renewing her friendships is love medicine. Recognizing what Kate and Isaac need (better than they do), and able to quietly provide it, helps Anna fit back into her life and work in Los Angeles.

“A Woman, A Part” will open on Wednesday, March 22 at IFC Center. There will be a Q&A at 7:30 pm show with Elisabeth Subrin, Cara Seymour, and other cast members, moderated by director and actress Erica Fae (“To Keep the Light”). On Thursday, March 23 there will be a Q&A at the 7:30 pm show with Elisabeth Subrin, producer Shrihari Sathe and editor Jennifer Ruff, moderated by Destiny Lilly. At the 8:10 pm show on both Friday, March 24 and Saturday, March 25, there will be a Q&A with Elisabeth Subrin Subrin and Shrihari Sathe.

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Spring Training: Catch

Leo and Ryder, Stone Ridge, NY, 3/18/17

Labradors have excellent senses of humor. To make Leo and Ryder laugh, I packed a medium-sized snowball and tossed it in their direction, with the suggestion, “Catch.” In on the joke, they then insisted on playing only with snowballs, rejecting Maggie’s tennis balls, sticks and Ryder’s bright orange retrieval dummy. Sometimes the most appealing toy is ephemeral.

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“Stella for Snow!”* (Stillwater Diary)

Groverkill, Stone Ridge, NY, 3/19/17

Nor’easter Stella (I remember when big winter storms were anonymous) covered Stone Ridge with nearly two feet of snow. Here, although shrinking, it remains mostly pristine, marked only by tracks made by deer, foxes and birds. With just a bit of a crunchy crust, it’s great for snowshoeing (and Labrador exuberance). As I walked to the Groverkill, small snowballs escaping from the front of my snowshoes rolled downhill, carving shallow patterns that looked like contrails.

Stone Ridge, NY, 3/19/17

Ryder, Stone Ridge, NY, 3/17/17

Kingston was similarly blanketed and plows clearing the snow in the parking lots at the mall formed mini mountains, funny temporary landscapes that I find appealing.

Home Depot, Kingston, NY, 3/18/17

McDonald’s, Kingston, NY, 3/18/17

In NYC, fewer than eight inches fell, which quickly transformed into frozen filth along the curb and complicated passages at intersections.

Greenwich Street, NYC, 3/16/17

*Apologies to Blanche Dubois, who greets her sister in the first scene of Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,”  “Stella, oh, Stella, Stella! Stella for Star!”

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War Ends but Peace Is Elusive

François Ozon, NYC, 6/12/00

In a provincial German town, in the immediate aftermath of World War I, a lovely young woman (Paula Beer, perfect), deep in mourning for her fiancé, Frantz, killed in the trenches, encounters a well-dressed, melancholy French stranger at her beloved’s grave.

Director and writer François Ozon’s emotionally rich and visually luminous “Frantz” (his first period film, his first shot in black and white) grapples with profound sadness, the near-impossibility of happiness after the cataclysm (three million dead in Germany, two million in France). And explores the consequences of the lies these two unmoored young people, Anna and Adrien (Pierre Niney, also wonderful), tell themselves and others, in the attempt to restore some semblance of  normal life. Call the subterfuge lies for living. (Ozon says about our era, “In a period obsessed with truth and transparency, I’ve been wanting to do a film about lies.”)

Anna, without family, lives with Frantz’s parents, Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner), the village doctor, and his nurturing wife Magda (Marie Gruber). Their days are subdued, as they try to make old routines fit again. They initially shun the young French visitor but he persists and the stories (flasbacks shot in elegant color) he tells of a close friendship (perhaps more?) with Frantz in Paris, where the Francophile lived and studied before the war, are somewhat restorative. Saying “Don’t be afraid to make us happy,” Magda encourages Adrien (a member of the Paris Opera orchestra) to play Frantz’s violin for the family.

Adrien and Anna walk in nature and reach a lake (Ozon references the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich), and their happiness grabs color into the frame. But their relief is fleeting, as Adrien tells Anna more about his relationship with Frantz. She prevents him from seeing Hoffmeister and Magda again and he returns to France.

Twice bereft, Anna attempts suicide, but is saved from drowning by a villager. She ignores Adrien’s letters, but after recovering from a period of depression, journeys (supported by Frantz’s parents) to Paris to find Adrien. When Anna eventually locates him at his family’s grand chateau, with his imperious mother and Fanny, his ostensibly friendly childhood friend, now fiancée, she finds her strength and is ready to try to move beyond the war, Frantz, Adrien and the lies.

“Frantz” will open today at Film Forum for a two-week run, and at Lincoln Plaza Cinema.

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This Is What A Women’s Movement Looks Like

International Women’s Strike, NYC, 3/8/17

Any doubts that the strength demonstrated by the record number of women in the streets on January 21 signaled the beginning of a new movement for equality and social justice, were fading in the weeks since and were totally demolished yesterday, International Women’s Day. In New York City, women (and men) participated in the 30-nation A Day Without a Woman, striking, meeting, wearing red, rallying and marching.

Following a rally in Washington Square Park, organized by a coalition of grassroots groups and labor organizations, marchers made their way to Zuccotti Park, passing historic/political sites: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory; the Stonewall Inn; the Varick Street Immigration Detention Center; and the African Burial Ground National Monument. The route also included one blight on downtown’s landscape, Trump Soho New York Hotel, which was built by fudging adherence to zoning regulations, and when hit with fraud lawsuits from co-op buyers, had the three oldest Trumpettes settling without admitting guilt (a family specialty, baked into their genes). The marchers’ resounding chant at Varick and Spring Streets was concise, “Fuck, Trump, fuck, Trump, fuck, Trump.”

International Women’s Strike, NYC, 3/8/17

International Women’s Strike, NYC, 3/8/17

International Women’s Strike, NYC, 3/8/17

International Women’s Strike, NYC, 3/8/17

International Women’s Strike, NYC, 3/8/17

International Women’s Strike, NYC, 3/8/17


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Manifest Destiny, Israeli Style

Shimon Dotan, NYC, 2/24/17

Shimon Dotan, NYC, 2/24/17

In his powerful, exhaustive new documentary, “The Settlers,” writer and director Shimon Dotan traces the 50-year movement, begun by deeply religious Israelis after the Yom Kippur war, to fulfill Biblical prophecy by reclaiming/”redeeming” all of the land they believed was given to the Jews by God.

I’ve now seen Dotan’s great film twice. The first time, projected big at the Walter Reade, I found it (excuse the pun), deeply unsettling. The second, watching on my computer screen, terrifying: an apocalypse foretold, a nation barreling toward disaster.

Dotan, who narrates, effectively mixes interviews with the original settlers (rabbis and other leaders, all grown old but no less sure), academics, politicians, human rights leaders (Israeli and Palestinian) young (fanatical) settlers in illegal outposts in the West Bank, military officers, with archival footage, and elegant black and white drawings (resembling woodcuts) that become animation.

The history of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is peopled with a  riveting cast of characters, beginning with Rabbi Kook, who, in 1967, prophesied that occupying the land would speed the return of the Messiah. The revered settlement leader, Rabbi Levinger was dangerously provocative in his life and since his 2015 death–he’s buried in Hebron, the only Palestinian city within which the Israelis have established a settlement (and where the first Intifada began in 1987). Sarah Nachshon, an early settler (with her Cheshire Cat husband), mother of 10, grandmother of 100, who gives new meaning to the word fierce, is one of only two women settlers profiled–it’s a man’s movement, ultra Orthodoxy sidelining women in the three Abrahamic religions. And in an outpost of sand and trailers, a very young, dead-eyed Hilltop Youth settler, with flowing payot, explains that Israel’s borders stretch from the Nile to the Tigris and Euphrates.

In October 1975, Yitzak Rabin, prime minister, called the settlements “like cancer to the democratic fabric of Israel.” He deplored that a “religious element,” was infiltrating politics, viewing government objections to Israelis building in the Occupied Territories as sin, not policy, and therefore, illegitimate. While Shimon Peres mostly agreed with Rabin, Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon favored and encouraged settlements. In 1992, Rabin, prime minister again, two decades after his original term, froze settlement construction, and signed the Oslo Accords with Yasir Arafat in September 1993. With his assassination in November 1995 by an right-wing extremist, restraints on the settlers were ended.

While the word settler has long been fraught–euphemisms and excuses include occupant, and “I am on the land of my forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jakob”–today there are 400,000 Israeli settlers in 225 settlements (built between Palestinian villages and circling their cities), and additional outposts, in the midst of 2.7 million Palestinians who are living under Israeli occupation. The ultra Orthodox settlers have been joined by other Israelis who have moved to the Occupied Territories as a lifestyle choice, eager to have bigger residences at lower costs and community centers with pools.

Dotan reveals, without optimism, where the settlement movement is dragging Israel and the three political options: retreat to the pre-1967 borders to maintain a Jewish and a democratic state; a democratic state, no longer Jewish (demographics is destiny, and the Palestine population is rapidly overtaking the Jewish); or an apartheid Jewish state. A religious settler says, “Democracy didn’t exist 200 years ago, probably won’t exist 200 years in the future,” implying that God’s law is eternal, overriding any human political system.

The film ends with an elegant and effective graphic (it said “ameba concept” in the credits), outlining the many potential maps of Israel, superimposed on the ancient land.

“The Settlers” will open today Film Forum for a 12-day run, and in Los Angeles on Friday, March 17, with other cities to follow. There will be Q&As at Film Forum with Shimon Dotan today at the 7:30 pm show, Saturday, March 4 at 7:15 pm, and Sunday, March 5 at 2:50 pm.

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